Fall Song by Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Fall Song

Mary Oliver, as many of you will know was masterful in describing the natural world and its changing seasons. Sometimes I think I must have read all of her poems but here is one new to me, such a delight. This year not quite gone but leaving its rich, spiced residues – leaves we would expect but uneaten fruits crumbling damply – now there is an image. I especially love the unmattering (!) of summer – who but Mary would have created a new word for that inevitable decay – this NOW, that now is nowhere / except underfoot. She leads us into that black subterranean castle of unobservable mysteries, how roots and seeds are there below the visible surface, how water makes its way through the earth.

All this richness she portrays to remind us when time’s measure / painfully chafes because the season is ending. Then autumn / flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing / to stay. I know that I want to hold on to these final days of my favourite time of year, wanting it to stay longer. Yet I take heart that everything lives, dormant though it will be, in these momentary pastures. If you read this aloud, I think you will hear that this is a song, a fall song of praise for the shifting / from one bright vision to another.

4 thoughts on “Fall Song by Mary Oliver

  1. I have loved Mary Oliver for a long time, mostly for her wonderful images which hold such meaning beyond description. In this poem, I was struck by the second line: its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves.
    I read it out loud many times, enjoying very much the repitition of the “s” sounds. That brought a recent memory to me of walking through woods which were full of large piles of leaves. Passing through the leaves made a clear “s” sound. Brava, Mary.

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  2. Dear Jan: You’ve posted one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems. I too love that original world, ‘unmattering’! I wonder if she also meant unmattering as a human – we don’t matter anymore once the momentary pastures fade away? Thank you for this treat. xoxo

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